“Your ability to communicate with others will account for fully 85% of your success in your business and in your life.”

Brian Tracy

Imagine being paid well to travel the world and share your message with people that want to hear you speak?

If something in that question resonates, this post might be helpful.

Today, over 50% of my income comes from delivering keynote speeches and workshops to industry conferences and corporate leadership teams. It has taken over 16 years from my earliest free speeches towards a career where I can live from speaking. I have delivered over 2,500 hours of keynotes and workshops to over 50,000 participants.

In terms of quality, my recent 100 hours of speaking are astronomically better than those first 100 hours… but everyone has to begin. How do you begin?

How to get paid to speak…

Step 1:

1. Become an Expert.

Your fees depend more on you being (and perceived) as an expert than on how well you actually speak.

Maybe you can be paid well even if you don’t master anything, but if you are not on the path to mastery… I personally would rather you stayed home. If you are planning on being paid to speak, make a deep and lasting commitment towards true mastery.

There are 3 types of Expert speaker.

The 3 Paths of Expert Mastery:

  1. The Result Expert – Proven ability to get specific results for others eg Toni Nadal, Marshall Goldsmith, Tony Robbins
  2. The Research Expert – Has interviewed performers and has a deep knowledge of tools, strategies and tactics in an area eg Michael Porter, Jim Collins
  3. The Role Model – Has been successful eg Jack Welsh, Barrack Obama, Casey Neistat

A well paid speaker needs to be seen as a thought leader. The classic path is to write and publish a book, but in today’s world there are new paths: build a large youtube, instagram, or blog following. Pick one and start producing thought. I suggest that you use your blog not for sharing expert articles, but sharing your learning journey. When you write expert articles, it is much more valuable to submit them to highly credible sites (depends on your segment, but for me this would be HBR, Forbes, Inc, FT, Big Think).

3 Actions that The Best experts regularly do

  1. Interview other experts looking for patterns and best practice; building your connections and reputation in this important community.
  2. Create arguments based on 4 parts:
    1. What we should Pay attention to
    2. What things Mean
    3. How things work
    4. What might happen
  3. Simplify complex ideas with frameworks

Are you on a path towards being a true expert? Have you chosen whether you are a results expert, a research expert or a role model? Good… now we move to step 2.

Step 2.

Speak Lots and lots…

and lots…

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Albert Einstein

This blog is full of material about speaking well so I will not repeat. Some good articles on speaking well:

  1. Blog post: 12 tips for Public Speaking,
  2. Video: Improve your Speaking,
  3. YouTube playlist Develop your Speaking Skills and
  4. Free course Speaking as a Leader.

Learn directly from expert speakers. Rather than paying for a course on public speaking, pay to go and see well paid expert speakers deliver their keynotes. I learn more watching how a great speaker plans, prepares, delivers, follows up than by reading books or courses on speaking. In february I asked Luis Soares Costa to run a retreat for Vistage. I watched how he interviewed me, how he clarified what we needed and what we could do… I travelled with him the day before and watched how he prepared the room and himself for the 2 day retreat. I learnt more watching what he did and how he did it than by asking him for tips.

Here are 5 ideas for those who wish to make speaking a profession:

5 Advanced Tips for turning Pro as a Speaker

  1. Model the Greats. Bill Clinton modeled himself as a speaker on President Kennedy, even down to the gestures and word choice. YouTube and TED have great examples. Personally, I spent years modelling my approach to speaking on the style of Jim Rohn and the delivery of Alan Watts. The idea is not to copy, but to clarify what works and how to make it work for you.
  2. Practice Every Day. Make selfie videos. Every single day. (Here’s my 10 week email course Speaking As a Leader). Join Toastmasters, give speeches to the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, Lions… Teaching at a university (IESE Business School) and delivering workshops at entrepreneur accelerator programs (for free) were how I got my first 500 hours of speaking experience.
  3. Practice what is hard, not what you find easy. If you are naturally charismatic and go with the flow… practice deep structure; if you are analytical and structured, practice improv. In Aikido they believe that your early strength will become a weakness if you are not disciplined. I personally still work hard on structure and ensuring a consistent delivery of my content to all audiences.
  4. Deliver Emotion. Emotions are power. Nobody will ask you back because you were the most analytical and correct speaker, they will ask you back because you made everybody feel strong emotions (and they can see it is predictable… nobody will recommend you if they don’t know 100% that you will deliver the same emotional impact every time). If you struggle to deliver emotional content and create deep connection with an audience, start to work on yourself. If you can deeply connect to emotion and to your own inner struggle, you can then begin to connect to others. It may take psychotherapy, it make take mastermind groups with personal development angles… but you must get deeply connected with your own internal emotional life.
  5. Focus your Speaking Topics. If you speak about anything to any audience, you will destroy your value. It is hard to say no, especially when you haven’t been paid for a few months – but each time you dilute, you die a little. A powerful brand is best defined what what it will not do, than what it will. Apple will never make toothbrushes… and if they do, sell the stock immediately.

Step 3.

Build your Reputation

…with the people that matter.

Be very careful who you take feedback and praise from. Only other speakers and people who pay for speakers count. Do not rely on friends, toastmaster club mates, family. They will tell you what you want to hear, not what you need to hear.

The best speaker referrals are other great expert speakers. When a conference has success with a speaker, they will ask that speaker to come back. They will also ask that speaker for recommendations. When another speaker gives your name as a referral, this is the most powerful marketing. I get more opportunities from other professional speakers than from any other source. Build a good reputation with this group.

Testimonials and Articles on high Credibility sites

A blog is interesting, but it is not a path to expert credibility. Articles on Forbes, HBR, Inc are more valuable than articles posted on your own blog.

Testimonials from conference organisers, other professional speakers and people who have paid you are the most valuable resource for credibility.

Put some of your speaking on YouTube. It is such a powerful tool to share your message, and in a format that people can see your quality.

Long Term: Become “The” Expert

It is not enough to be an expert, you must become known as the expert. Some people become “The” expert – their name is so closely linked to a category that an event is not “The” event if they are not speaking. Jim Collins has built that level of personal brand in the business leadership category. Marshall Goldsmith in the business coaching category, Tony Robbins in the personal development category. They can multiply their fees by 100 because their name alone sells half the tickets.

My good friend Raul Aguirre’s TEDx talk (The Hidden Secret of Success) is about how to create a unique category for yourself. It is hard to be the best business school professor in the world, but I can combine 3 categories: Great business school professor (IESE) who also has a massive following on YouTube and also is the expert on the role and challenges facing CEOs (Vistage). When I put IESE + YouTube + Vistage together, nobody else can compete.

3. Become a Wealthy Expert

There are many experts sitting in bars sharing their wisdom for free with people who don’t want to hear. It is not enough to be an expert, and it is not enough to be known as an expert – you must become a professional. Professionals know the value of their time.

It took me several years to be comfortable with the following actions, but you must if you are to have the resources to be able to really make an impact with your message.

Four Actions of Wealthy Experts

There are 4 things that can differentiate the wealthy expert speaker from the non-wealthy expert speaker:

  1. Package your knowledge: Write, speak, record – put knowledge into a form that people are willing to purchase
  2. Campaign vs Promote your knowledge – each interaction leads to a further interaction. Build a community around your expertise.
  3. Charge expert fees – charge more than you are comfortable with. Run your speaking practice as a business. You have value and are the expert. You are not selling 60 minutes, you are selling your lifetime of experience. Your service improves people’s lives. Price yourself accordingly. Most expert speakers build a structure to their offering around multiple price points:
    1. free – blogging, writing, webinars
    2. €100 – public speech or open event
    3. €1000 – 1 day workshop
    4. €3000 – 3-7 day workshop
    5. €10,000 – 1-1 coaching or mastermind group
    6. €100,000 – something high end to make the rest seem more reasonable…
  4. Focus on:
    1. Distinction – Keep studying the competition and keep innovating, get real feedback from the important people (the person who pays and from other speakers… not from your friends or people who didn’t pay you)
    2. Excellence – Be better every day
    3. Service – Be helpful and responsive

These 4 actions were inspired by a video from Brandon Burchard.  Brandon advises others on how to become well-paid experts.

Are you a Speaker

Are you a paid speaker? What other tips would you give to someone thinking about this path? I plan to update this resource a few times with more materials and tips over the coming months.

This video is about 4 different types of audience that you can face as a speaker and how to adjust your objectives and manner of engagement to each of these distinct audience groups.

The 4 Types of Audience

There are four types of audience, and consequent persuasive strategy that you can come upon when you are seeking to move a group to action through your speech.

  1. Friendly. Your purpose: reinforcing their beliefs.
  2. Apathetic. Your purpose is to first to convince them that it matters for them.
  3. Uninformed.  Your requirement is to educate before you can begin to propose a course of action.
  4. Hostile. You purpose is to respect them and their viewpoint. The most you may be able to gain is respect to listen to your views. It is key that you can present some information that is viewed as new to the audience before asking for any change in their position.  This is firstly courteous, but also gives the listener’s ego room to change without feeling demeaned (“based on this new information, I ask you to change”)

Dealing with a Hostile Audience

Specific Actions for Hostile Audiences

When providing new information it is vital that you help the listeners “assimilate”.  How can you make it real for them?  There are a number of techniques to bear in mind.

  • Use stories (ideally real stories), metaphors, hypothetical situations
  • Stress common ground
  • Present statistics/data that is clear to conclude from
  • Address conflicting evidence (what are the strengths and weaknesses of the conflicting evidence)
  • AVOID exaggeration or gross hyperbole.  The use of exaggeration in a number of areas of public debate has caused extreme entrenchment of the opposing sides. eg. abortion, climate change. The persuasive speaker works hard to keep to the facts and be clear about the logic of the proposed course of action.

This is a request for your experience.  I want your help.

Yesterday, I came across an interview with Ryan Avery, 2012 World Champion of Public Speaking on the blog of Paul Sohn: How to Speak Like a World Champion of Public Speaking.

Ryan Avery. At age 25, Ryan is the youngest World Champion of Public Speaking in history. He currently works as the Director of Marketing and Communications at Special Olympics Oregon.
Ryan Avery. At age 25, Ryan is the youngest World Champion of Public Speaking in history. He currently works as the Director of Marketing and Communications at Special Olympics Oregon.

The question that really struck me and has left me deep in thought for the last 24 hours is this:

“What is the hardest thing that you ever had to work for?”

Ryan said that a friend asked him this question and the fact that he could not answer it made him change.  He became World Champion of Public Speaking because of the question.

What is your answer?  Is it clear?

Personally, I don’t have a clear answer.

I have been reflecting on school, university, MBA; on 8 years of work at Accenture; on 1 year travelling with a backpack around Asia and Latin America; on 12 years building companies as a entrepreneur; on teaching; on 8 years of being a parent…  and I am not sure I have a clear answer.

My reflection is that I want to have a clear answer on my 50th birthday.  I want to know that there was something that I was willing to sacrifice for and that I chose to do the work consistently; in the good and in the tough times.

This weekend, I am on a 3 day course with Dr John DeMartini called “Master Planning for Life”.  I aim to have an answer on Sunday night.

My Questions for You, Reader:

I would love your help.  I learn so much from listening to other’s experiences.  I would welcome comments or emails direct to me conor (at) conorneill.com with your experiences, reflections and perspectives:

  • What is the hardest thing you have had to work for?
  • When did you know that you were committed to achieving it?
  • How did you overcome the loss of passion, the doubts as you worked through the project?
  • What is something you are working on now that is big, hard and meaningful (but your choice!  not your boss, company, family… you personally chose this project)

Thank you.

I uploaded my first educational tips video to youtube in January 2011.  I wanted to reach out to a wider audience than can come and attend IESE Business School in Barcelona or in Madrid, or those who read my blog.

Today, there are 77 short educational videos on the channel, and with 1.3 Million views, the channel has been a success far beyond what I ever would have expected.

The Future Evolution of my YouTube Educational Channel

My “Rhetorical Journey” youtube channel has now got over 16,700 youtube subscribers and over 1,3 Million views of the educational videos.  The top videos are:

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I plan to continue to share short form video content via this channel.  I will produce 24 new videos over then next 12 months.

Launching Premium Long-Form Educational Content

Up to now I have only shared short tips or 5 minute segments of speeches.  I have received many requests for more, and deeper, material.

I have decided to create a new channel that shares full speeches and full classroom sessions.

Many of you are happy with the short tips that I will continue to provide via the free channel.

This channel is not for everyone.  This channel is only for those of you who want to go deeper into the material that I teach.  I will be sharing at least one new long-form video each month.

[Currently Free] Opening Video: What is Success?

There will be a number of free to view full speeches such as this one from The Leadership Concert in Romania.  This set of speeches was delivered with a full orchestra and concert pianist.

The Videos in the Series

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 12.18.01

The full leadership speeches and more available on YouTube Conor Neill Premium Content

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What does it take to be a great public speaker?

London Speaker Bureau has put it all together on a pretty page.  From content to delivery, from startings to endings and from logos to ethos to pathos, its all here in this infographic.

The London Speaker Bureau represent and work with some of the most influential people in the world, from politicians and economists to thought leaders and entrepreneurs.  Between them, they cover a vast range of topics, from management and finance to technology, education, innovation and the environment

If you’ve ever wanted a beautiful poster size infographic to guide your development as a persuasive speaker, this is the one.

9 Steps to Public Speaking Expertise

pscs-londonspeakingbureau
Hat tip to Joe Shervell.

Stories are Predictable

“We think of stories as a wildly creative art form but within that creativity and that diversity there is a lot of conformity. Stories are very predictable. No matter where you go in the world, no matter how different people seem, no matter how hard their lives are, people tell stories, universally, and universally the stories are more or less like ours: the same basic human obsessions, and the same basic structure. The structure comes down to: stories have a character, the character has a predicament or a problem—they’re always problem-focused—and the character tries to solve the problem. In its most basic terms, that’s what a story is—a problem solution narrative.” Jonathan Gottschall

The 7 Steps to the Perfect Story

From structure and plot to heroes and characters, your story must have 7 elements in order to engage the audience. Here’s an infographic from the Content Marketing Association that visually defines the process of storytelling:

Click the image below to view a larger version.

Source: Visual Portrait of a Story, adapted by Ohler, J. (2001) from Dillingham, B. (2001)

This is a series of 10 interviews with the expert coaches during the IESE EMBA Intensive week 2013.  (If you are viewing via rss, video on the blog here).  The Expert Contributors are:

  • Tony Anagor ([twitter-follow screen_name=’lifestyledmc’])
  • Florian Mueck ([twitter-follow screen_name=’the7minutestar’])
  • Conor Neill (Me!) ([twitter-follow screen_name=’cuchullainn’])
  • Tobias Rodrigues ([twitter-follow screen_name=’conflictmentor’])
  • John Zimmer ([twitter-follow screen_name=’zimmerjohn’])

The Speaking Guru Interviews

Questions from You

What questions do you have for next year’s set of expert interviews?

Diapositiva14

The Webinar:

This is the recording of the IESE Develop Your Communication Skills webinar we ran on 13th April 2013.  It is here on the IESE Business School YouTube channel.

Storify Summary of the Webinar via Twitter Hashtag: #iesewebinar

Resources cited in the Webinar:

I wrote “Give a TED talk” on my bucket list 4 years ago, today I feel happy to see the idea come to fruition. It is not a TED Talk per-se, i.e. it is not up there on a stage, but in my mind almost better – a lesson from my class, and a concept that is very important today. We are increasingly overloaded with information, but need to be more and more careful how we trust this information. We want to connect to the meaning behind the information. As the lesson says “Ethos and Pathos are missing”…

What Aristotle and Joshua Bell can teach us about Persuasion

Imagine you are one of the world’s greatest violin players, and you decide to conduct an experiment: play inside a subway station and see if anyone stops to appreciate when you are stripped of a concert hall and name recognition. Joshua Bell did this, and Conor Neill channels Aristotle to understand why the context mattered.

Lesson by Conor Neill, animation by Animationhaus.

View the full lesson, additional resources and the quick quiz on the TED Education website: here

Joshua Bell on violin

Joshua Bell, “Poet of the Violin”

Often referred to as the “poet of the violin,” Joshua Bell is one of the world’s most celebrated violinists. He continues to enchant audiences with his breathtaking virtuosity, tone of sheer beauty, and charismatic stage presence.

Aristotle

Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher ofAlexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics,government, ethics, biology, and zoology. Together with Plato and Socrates (Plato’s teacher), Aristotle is one of the most important founding figures in Western philosophy. Aristotle’s writings were the first to create a comprehensive system of Western philosophy, encompassing morality, aesthetics,logic, science, politics, and metaphysics.

Aristotle’s Rhetoric is an ancient Greek treatise on the art of persuasion, dating from the 4th century BC. The English title varies: typically it is titled Rhetoric, the Art of Rhetoric, or a Treatise on Rhetoric.

The Words, the Meaning, the Effect

JL Austin’s short book

As we communicate, there are 3 separate processes at play:

  1. what we say,
  2. what we mean when we say it, and
  3. what we accomplish by saying it

A rhetorician would call these 3 separate processes: 1) locution, 2) illocution, and 3) perlocution.  In my courses we use the shorthand “Point X” to refer to the perlocutionary effect.  This is where effective persuasive communication must begin.


Speech Act theory was laid out by the philosopher J. L. Austin in his small book “How to do things with Words”.

Words that Change the World

One difference between gods and men is that a god’s words directly change the world, whereas the words of men depend on action of others to cause the change.  A god might say “let there be light”, and the sun appears.  A man might say “can you turn on the light?” and another person hears, understands and reaches his hand out to the switch.

However, we do have occasions and rituals in which a man’s words do cause a change in the world.  These occasions the speech is called “performative”.  Consider the following statements:

1a) Conor says, “James and Sarah are married.”
1b) A judge says, “James and Sarah, I now pronounce you man and wife.”

2a) Conor says, “That ball was on the line!”
2b) The umpire says, “Point to Rafa Nadal.  Game.”

The a) statements communicate information.  These are non-performative utterances.  The b) statements directly change the state of the world.  The statements of the judge or the umpire are performative utterances.

Performative utterances are not limited to judges, umpires and gods.  Consider:

3a) Conor says, “I would bet on New Zealand to beat England”
3b) Conor says, “I bet you €10 that New Zealand beat England today”

This third examples show the establishment of an verbal contract.  Legal codes in many nations hold these verbal contracts as valid on a par with written contracts.  Performative Speech acts include promising, ordering, greeting, warning, inviting and congratulating.

Types of Meaning

John Searle gives the following classification of illocutionary speech acts:

  • assertives = speech acts that commit a speaker to the truth of the expressed proposition, e.g. reciting a creed
  • directives = speech acts that are to cause the hearer to take a particular action, e.g. requests, commands and advice
  • commissives = speech acts that commit a speaker to some future action, e.g. promises and oaths
  • expressives = speech acts that express the speaker’s attitudes and emotions towards the proposition, e.g. congratulations, excuses and thanks
  • declarations = speech acts that change the reality in accord with the proposition of the declaration, e.g. baptisms, pronouncing someone guilty or pronouncing someone husband and wife

Political Speaking

Politicians often speak in a manner that treads a fine line between performative and non-performative speech.  They make statements that sound like assertive promises, but if you listen exactly to the words, they avoid the full commitment.  We hear the promise, but if later their statement is fact-checked, it can slide by as a non-performative.

This has led to a great distrust in any sort of vague speaking.  If you mean to make a promise, it is important in today’s environment to state it in clear and non-ambiguous terms.

Remove “maybe”, “try” and “might” from your vocabulary.  They turn a performative utterance into a vague, grey mush.

For your words to change the world, be concise and direct with your performative statements.

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